Voting is one of the most underappreciated rights of Australian citizenship. We have become complacent in our election of representatives; many people simply ask their parents who to vote for. At times, Australian politics can be hard to follow, so here is some information that will hopefully help you understand what is going on within the strange world of politics.
How does voting work?
Australia has made it compulsory for citizens to vote—with the added bonus of fining those who don’t vote. This means that those in power who represent our country to the rest of the world, have actually been chosen by the majority of Australians. With our often large voter turnout, this makes it a pretty accurate representation of the will of citizens.
The composition of the forty-fifth government, under Malcolm Turnbull, was made up of 74 Coalition seats in the House of Representatives, Labor had 69 seats and the crossbench members, made up of Greens, Centre Alliance, Katter’s Australian Party and Independents had 7 seats.
Western Australia held 11 Liberal and 5 Labor seats within this government. Within the Senate, the Government Coalition—made up of Liberal, Nationals and Country Liberals—had 30 seats, Labor had 25 and the crossbench had 18 seats. Of the seats in the Senate, WA held 5 Liberal, 4 Labor, 2 Greens, and 1 One Nation.
Despite this, Australians seem to have become complacent with what is happening in the world of politics, especially in regards to voting. Australia is one of the 22 countries that have compulsory voting, but just because people go to the polls doesn’t mean they are actually voting. About five per cent of people voted informally in the 2016 House of Representatives federal election—which means they either submitted an empty form, or decided to doodle all over it. But I’ll go into this more below.
Source: SBS News
Voter apathy – is it real?
There are many arguments for and against compulsory voting, with some claiming that it is undemocratic as it makes citizens utilise this right by force, and describing it as an “infringement of liberty”. It is also argued that those that don’t care about politics aren’t just forced to vote, but their votes are worth the same as those who do care.
This leads to an increased number of “donkey votes” or votes that are purposely messed up so that they don’t count. Extra resources are also being used to make sure those who don’t vote have a valid reason behind why, such as a medical emergency or prior unavoidable engagement. Is it truly an infringement on rights?
The argument for compulsory voting is that it decreases political apathy and encourages political participation. As mentioned before, it allows parliament to truly represent the will of the majority, and forces the government to consider the entire electorate when forming policies.
It also increases the amount of information on real issues that are released; they don’t have to encourage people to vote. Which means we have a fuller understanding of what each party wants to do to benefit our country.
This is important because the last election in WA produced the lowest turnout of voters ever, with almost 75,000 people facing fines. Whether you agree with penalties or not, it is important that you take these votes seriously and educate yourself on different parties and their actions.
Labor, Liberal, and the other parties
Although we may believe we have no effect of politics, in 2018 WA people aged 16-39 made up 36 per cent of all voters; Gen X (ages 40-54) made up 26 per cent of all voters; baby boomers and any older generation (ages 55-70+) made up 38 per cent of voters.
We are the second-largest group of enrolled voters. And when around 96.2 per cent of eligible Australians are enrolled, every vote matters.
A study conducted in 2010 (N = 4,520) shows that Labor and Greens dominate the 18-34 category. The Coalition has a higher number of primary votes than the others in the age ranges of 35-65+ years of age.
The younger generation is demonstrably more progressive, leaning towards left-wing politics.
Why you should vote
As a citizen, you should always exercise your right to vote. Although Millennials and Generation Z are sometimes portrayed to have an apathetic nature, voting is the easiest way to influence the laws and policies that will affect us well into our future. Voting is a level of involvement in democracy, and not everyone living in Australia has access to it. Whether you personally believe it is right or wrong to fine abstainers, it is your duty to use the vote as best you can.
To make an informed vote you need to look at policies, research online, watch the news, have conversations with people and see where they stand.
You can look in the Australian version of a site called “ISideWith” which makes understanding and being informed on each party’s stances on many topics easy and accessible. The ABC has also created a “Vote Compass” quiz, which can help you to decide where your vote is going. It also allows you to take a quiz to find what party you align with.
In this stage of our political climate, it is necessary that you utilise the rights you have. Everyone has an opinion on different political issues, so why not put those opinions into action. Go out and educate yourself, make your voice count. Vote this federal election.